Holland are perennial nearly-men, but they will be looking to go one better than last time out, when they finished runners-up to Spain. Louis van Gaal’s appointment as Manchester United manager will bring even more attention to him and his Dutch squad, as fans and pundits look for any suggestion as to how United will play under the 62-year-old, and if any of his squad will join him and Robin van Persie at Old Trafford. Many will expect them to do very well this summer, with van Gaal seeking the ultimate send-off.
With the likes of Spain, Brazil and Germany all staking very good claims for the title, Holland could fall short, especially if van Persie is struck by another injury that has blighted his most recent club campaign. A tough group means they have to hit the ground running, as they face Spain early on. A win there and they will be confident of progressing with ease; a defeat and the match against Chile becomes vital.
This Dutch squad is full of attacking flair, with van Persie joined by the likes of Arjen Robben, Wesley Sneijder and Klaas-Jan Huntelaar. They also have a whole host of young stars who could set this World Cup alight, the most promising of which are creative midfielder Jordy Clasie and winger Memphis Depay. Bruno Martins Indi – who has been tipped to join van Gaal at United – is also one of the best defenders Holland have produced in many years.
The loss of Kevin Strootman is huge, as the Roma midfielder is vital to van Gaal’s favoured 4-3-3 formation. He would have been one of the stars of this World Cup and his Dutch teammates will have to work extremely hard to make up for his absence.
As exciting as this youthful Dutch side is, there is also the worry that they are too young to make it all the way to the final. There is plenty of experience in the squad, but it will be interesting to see how the less experienced players perform on the biggest stage of all.
Without question it is van Persie, who holds the key to Holland’s progress in this competition. Robben is also destined to play a huge role, but the United striker is van Gaal’s star-player and having shone in qualifying, it will be interesting to see if he can keep that goal-scoring form going once they reach Brazil.
One to Watch
While Clasie and Depay could steal a few headlines along the way, I am going for Martins Indi, who could be the closest thing Holland have had to Jaap Stam since, well, Stam himself. The 22-year-old Feyenoord player rotates between his duties at left-back and centre-back, but it is in the centre where he is expected to play this summer. He will have to keep some very talented front-man quiet along the way, starting with the likes of Diego Costa (if he is fit) and Alexis Sanchez.
This really could go either way. Their group is such that they could fall at the first hurdle if they do not start well. Then again, they have the talent to win all three matches and head confidently into the group stages. Van Gaal will want to go out on a high, and that could be the motivation that sends Holland all the way to another final. I just feel they will fall a little short and depart in the last-four.